Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

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Must read: “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women”

I’m generally quite satisfied with my decision to have taken Spanish rather than French in high school, but then something like this comes along: Elisabeth Badinter’s new book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. Written by well-known (in France, I’m told) French intellectual Elisabeth Badinter, it’s been out in French for a while now, but won’t be out in English in the US for another six weeks. And I want to read it. Now. C’est tragique!

Badinter’s thesis is that crunchy, progressive modern motherhood – the extended breastfeeding, the cloth diapering, the babywearing, the co-sleeping – is setting women back, turning childrearing into a new form of oppression. As a recent New Yorker profile explains, she believes that ”women are falling victim to sociobiological fictions that reduce them to the status of female mammels” … “she describes it as ‘a movement dressed in the guise of a modern, moral cause that worships all things natural.”

The book has already caused quite an international stir, and I’m sure it will do the same when it’s released here on April 24.

Badinter is far from the first person to question or criticize today’s intensive parenting techniques. I’ve been researching and writing quite a bit about how natural parenting/attachment parenting interacts with feminism, and I’ve interviewed dozens of women of all different beliefs. On the one hand, there are those who say that attachment parenting is healthiest for both moms and babies, and that it’s sexist that our society makes it so hard to parent that way (lack of maternity leave and workplace flexibility makes it difficult to practice extended breastfeeding, etc.). On the other hand, there are those who say that that attachment parenting/natural parenting pressures women into giving up their whole selves in service of their children, at great personal and financial cost, for little scientifically validated gain. Like Badinter, many feel that attachment parenting elevates the idea of motherly attention to such a degree that it makes it difficult or impossible to share parenting equally between moms and dads. “Attachment parenting is the most anti-feminist parenting strategy I can think of,” one woman told me flatly.

Unless any Francophone readers feel like translating Badinter’s book for me, I’ll be eagerly awaiting its April release date.

9 comments to Must read: “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women”

  • Looks interesting Emily…I’ll keep my eye out for it when it’s out in English. Even five years of French wouldn’t get me past page one without a headache ;)

  • Meredith

    It’s interesting to trace the thread of privilege through new domesticity. In the New Yorker profile, Kramer notes that Badinter’s wealth fuels her critics (though perhaps it also fuels her followers?). In much of your research it seems like the notion of economic privilege — who gets to be a new domestic woman? — comes up as well often as a point of if not contention, then at least a kind of push-back.

    I wonder about cultural currency/aspirationalism as well. Are instagram pictures, Lodge bread, backyard eggs, and children clothed in hand-sewn sweaters tantamount to class signifiers (divisions?) of the new domesticity “economy”?

  • I’m really interested to hear the accounts on this subject from your own interviews. Since leaving the Mormon church, I’ve been contemplating my status as a homemaker. I think that had I not been taught my whole life that motherhood was the highest ideal for women, I would have followed a different path. I’m curious how other moms decided that staying home and becoming DIY experts was for them. For me, I did it because some old men in Salt Lake said it was the right thing to do, that it was what God wanted for me and my children. Now I’m not so sure.

    Likewise, it’s discouraging to realize that everything I do at home–laundry, cleaning, cooking–could be done by a minimum wage employee off the street. I find so much of homemaking mundane and tediously boring. With that in mind, it’s surprising to me that so many women take on homemaking with so much exuberance. And as Meredith said, I do think it’s part of economic privilege. I can stay home because I have a husband who makes enough money that we don’t need two incomes to survive. For the lower class, new domesticity isn’t a choice. It’s work or die.

    • formerwriter

      I really enjoyed your essay on salon about your experiences. Choosing your husband over your church was definitely the right decision!

      Now that you can see your future and life choices as broader than what “some old men in Salt Lake said,” I hope you’ll find the choices available exhilarating.

      It’s probably a little scary at first to realize there is so much one can do as a woman, and it’s never too late.

      Thank you for your article on salon. You are incredibly brave, and show so much integrity. Best of luck to you!

  • I don’t know if its really an economic thing, at least not tied as much to privilege as one would think…particularly when one has small children. Realistically, for me to stay home with my children, it is in many ways cheaper than the costs associated with my having a job–day care (which runs about 200-300 a week easily where we live), transportation, work wardrobe, lunches out, etc. Additionally, as a stay at home mom, there is more that I can do to off-set the loss of a second income, in terms of minimizing our expenses (second hand shopping is much more labor intensive than buying new, as is baking, etc)–and while much of it I do because I enjoy it (crocheting or foraging for example), a good chunk of it is just plain drudgery (most of which would still need to be done even if I worked, but would have less time to get it done). We certainly are not upper class, or even upper middle class (more like lower-middle class). I think it would be safe to say that we actually accept a slightly lower standard of living than we would have if I had a career job, but maintain either the same or slightly higher of a standard of living that we would have if I was forced to work at Wal-mart or some other minimum wage position.

    • Emily

      I love that you make this point, Thalassa. It seems like there are lots of middle-class or upper-middle-class women who get heavily into “domestic DIY” because they find it satisfying and it’s a way to use the creativity and energy they used to expend in the working world. Then I’ve also talked to tons of women who, like you, do DIY partly as a cost-saving measure. In fact, it seems like, with the recession, a lot of people (even the middle- and upper-middle-class) are doing DIY partly for personal satisfaction, but largely for money-saving. Though I’ve also talked to people who found that certain things (like keeping chickens) don’t really save that much money, or might even cost more money!

  • Of course all this argument ignores at least one question. Is attachment parenting better for the child? If so then is everything else in the above arguments irrelevant?

  • Oh my good grief are women still trying to put each other down over this tedious subject. I have always felt that if men had the baby they’d be chilled about it. Some would work, some would stay home then they’d meet at footy or the pub and talk sport. Women put each other down and make each other feel bad for their choices. The great school gate divide, home mummies and working mummies. Crap! I lived below frugal for the first 7 years of my child’s life because that was our choice; no holidays, rubbish car, no frills. After that it took me 2 years to get back on the ladder where I dropped off. Loving it. But wouldn’t have missed those years with him for the world. My choice. I have friends who did the same or the opposite and what I see, from my own life and from my first jobs before college working for many families as a temp. nanny, is that happy parents make happy children. Simple as that. If parents are confident and happy with their choices their children will simply be happy around them. I have seen confident career women and confident home mums and I have seen women in either role clearly doing it only because they felt the pressure that it was ‘the right thing to do’ even if it made them miserable. PLEASE can women just choose what’s best for their character, their relationships, their lives and stop bitching at each other about that.
    (rant over).

  • [...] debate on natural mothering About a month ago, I wrote about Elisabeth Badinter’s upcoming book: The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. The book, which claims that [...]